California Dreaming
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These 10 new patterns catch trout in the Golden State, but they’ll work wherever you fish. Numerous streams, home to vigorous populations of trout, tumble down the moderate mountains and ribbon the interior valleys of Northern California. The McCloud, Fall, Pit, and Sacramento Rivers, plus Hat Creek, represent a few of the more notable streams that beckon anglers to fish this part of our state. Opportunities abound for trout anglers to fish these storied waters with their favorite fake bugs. But what flies will fool the fish this season?

The old favorite patterns are losing their effectiveness on our popular trout streams, and it’s no wonder: the fish see thousands of them. These waters attract crowds of anglers who happily whip the waters with age-tested flies, and last year’s hot patterns often don’t get the job done this season. It seems the trout are becoming smarter: they are wising up to our tricks. Even a learning-disadvantaged fish must eventually realize that the Sparkle Dun floating overhead appears more like the fly that fooled him yesterday than the mayflies he sees every day. Sometimes new patterns can be more effective, not necessarily because they better represent the natural insects but simply because they are different.

Born of long winter tying sessions that instill new twists on an old pattern, an adaptation incorporating new materials or techniques might produce the latest winning fly. If last year’s go-to pattern isn’t doing the job, make a change to something new; it could be as simple as changing the size, color, or style of a pattern. If most anglers are using standard dry flies, try a parachute, spent-wing, or drowned pattern. If the popular fly is a PMD, use something imitative of the bug but slightly different from the typical thorax tie. Eventually, of course, as word gets out about the successful fly, more anglers knot it to their leaders and the fish get used to seeing it, and around and around we go. On heavily fished waters, creative fly tiers strive to stay ahead of the fish’s learning curve with new twists to keep their patterns fresh and more deceptive.

A handful of insects produce the major hatches on Northern California’s trout streams. Three or four caddisflies, three or four mayflies, a few stoneflies, and a couple terrestrials constitute the predominate trout-tempting insects. Let’s look at 10 new patterns that imitate these bugs. We will examine four dry flies, three nymphs, one spinner, one emerger, and one drowned pattern.

New Caddisflies
Various caddis species constitute a major part of our insect population. Elk-Hair Caddis–type patterns, with hackle palmer-wrapped over their bodies to make them rest tall on the water, are typically used to imitate adult caddisflies. Yet many caddis sit close to the water and present a low silhouette. The success of the X-Caddis shows the need for a lowriding pattern. The new Pea Pod Caddis also sits low in the water, floats well, and presents a more realistic impression to the trout. A segmented body, lifelike wing, and fine yet supple legs provide additional realism. This fly presents a fresh look to the trout.

Caddis-pupa imitations fool trout and steelhead, and represent an integral piece in our trout-fishing weaponry. Tim Fox’s Poopah is a new and effective pattern. Adding more bubble-like glitter with the crinkled cellophane appendages and using Henry’s Fork Hackle to represent the head and legs increases the movement and shimmer of the Poopah. I tie my B.H. Crinkle Pupa with olive-green Vernille to imitate the small green sedge (Rhyacophila), tan Vernille for the spotted sedge (Hydropsyche), brown and green Vernille for the grannom (Brachycentrus), and with large orange Vernille for the October caddis (Dicosmoecus).

The October caddis is very important on the West Coast, and my adult pattern presents a more lifelike look than an orange Stimulator, which has been the fly of choice to imitate the giant orange sedge for many years. The foam overbody in my Fall Caddis provides the flotation that is lost when I replace the standard deer-hair wing with a more credible wing.

Improved Stoneflies and Mayflies
Stoneflies, just like caddisflies, are with us all season. The little yellow stonefly appears in fishable numbers on all our rivers and deserves serious attention from anglers. Yellow sallies, a familiar name for the little yellow stoneflies, look delicate and comely, unlike their big-bruiser cousins. My LYS Sally touches the water softly and imitates the long, slender silhouette and see-through wings of the real insect. Long pliable antennae and shorter rear cerci give the fly a more lifelike appearance.

Salmonflies create an early season buzz in Northern California and all across the western states, but the golden stonefly appears sporadically throughout the season and brings months of fine trout fishing. Stonefly nymphs such as the successful but awkwardly named Gold Bead Biot Epoxy Golden Stone Nymph, tied by the innovative Mike Mercer (it sounds like Mike tried to get all the tying instructions into the fly’s name), fool large trout and steelhead. For the last few years, Mike’s nymph and the aptly named Rubber-Legs Fly have been go-to stonefly nymphs on our waters. Known for attracting big fish, the Rubber-Legs creates a decent silhouette but has little other realism; its rubber legs are the pattern’s most important attribute. My RL Golden Stone, on the other hand, is more realistic looking and retains the allure of rubber legs; it offers a fresh look to the fish. Tied in black, brown, or gold, the RL Stone attracts trophy-size trout.

Spring green drakes and autumn Isonychias are large and important mayflies, and you can imitate either nymph by altering the colors of the same basic pattern. These nymphs
exhibit prominent gill structures along the sides of their abdomen. I use dark olive Antron to imitate the gills for the Antron Green Drake Nymph (E. grandis), and wine-colored Antron for my Antron Velma Nymph (Isonychia). I coat the wing case with either epoxy or UV wader repair glue.

The adult green drake offers a large meal to surface-feeding trout. Tying a fly with an extended body provides the best means of imitating this major insect. My FF Green Drake has folded foam wings and a light foam body over stripped hackle stems to achieve the appearance and flotation necessary to fool large trout.

Pale-morning duns and blue-winged olives are the most dominant stream-born mayflies in our area. They provide good dryfly action, but the spinners and emergers are equally important. I tie many of my mayfly spinners, including the FF PMD Spinner, with crinkled clear cellophane wings. My FF BWO Emerger, like many of my emergers, has a forward- tilted wing of white foam; this foam enables the body to hang down in the water with only the wing and head appearing above the surface.

Flying ants are the most readily available terrestrials. I tie ants with and without wings, and both floating and drowned patterns. Ants may be the most underutilized flies on our rivers, but I enjoy regular success with them. My Drowned Ant has a small bead head and EZ Magic Dub for the abdomen. For the Drowned Flying Ant, I add a burned wing of crinkled clear cellophane.

The Wing’s the Thing
I specify burned wings in many of my patterns. I prefer burned wings because I like the sturdy darkened edges and their uniform appearance, but you may substitute cut wings. You can also adjust the edge by leaving or trimming more or less material from the burned wing. Many sizes and shapes of wing burners are commercially available, but I prefer to make my own so that I can design the exact shape and size of wing for each application. Sometimes, however, I use foam wings; I do not burn these wings, because many types of foam won’t survive the heating process.

Speaking of foam, you will see that I call for the use of packing foam in some patterns. You may substitute craft or fly-tying foam as long as it is the correct thickness. Using thinner foam might work, but foam that is too thick adds unsightly bulk and might ruin the balance of the fly. Packing foam comes in different thicknesses—sometimes in the same package— and has more closed cells than some craft and tying foams. It is also easy to color with permanent markers. I choose thin closed-cell packing foam for the bodies of my flies, and thicker foams for making folded wings.

I mention embroidery thread in some patterns, generally as a ribbing material. Embroidery thread comes in a staggering array of colors and is very inexpensive. This material generally comes as five or six strands braided together, so I separate them and normally use only one strand for the rib of a fly.

In some recipes I call for crinkled cellophane wings. Cellophane comes in clear, pearl, and many other colors; look for colored cellophane in your neighborhood craft store. Roll a small piece of the material between your palms into a tight ball. Next, unravel the material. The crinkles in the cellophane resemble the veins in an insect wing.

No fly is the magic bullet to solving every fishing situation. Trout in our popular streams often require something new to tip the scales in our favor. These patterns are some of my favorites for fishing my favorite California streams, but I bet they’ll work wherever you fish.

John R. Gantner is a talented freelance writer who lives in California.

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